10 May 2005

The Value of our Academia

Recently, I had the good fortune of running into a bright young woman working on her MBA. Along with an article in USA Today and an ancillary SlashDot post, it sparked me thinking about the value of our various secondary education programs and education in general. It's a politically charged beast at best and quickly devolves into a religious debate even among reasoning adults. After all, this is your alma mater we're talking about. A significant part of your social network, and no small part of your maturity quotient too. To begin with, I would never disparage someone for going after their secondary education (or MBA, or certification, or whatever). In fact, I whole heartedly support and encourage it! All learning is good. Education is vital and important. I'm an avid fan of certifications and degrees and whatnot. Here's an example of some reasons I'm a fan of MBA's in particular. Having clarified my pro-education/pro-MBA stance (especially for you Katie!) I have to ask. Is this another of those systems that is in place where everyone realizes it's mostly farce but there's nothing we can do about it? Okay, maybe that was tactless, but I'm trying to be direct here. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Christina Fong have been researching this for quite a while. It can certainly be argued that these two are making a living by being critical of our management education in America, but their research is extensive and seems to carry some weight. The whole value of an MBA thing I don't really care about, it's not my point. It is simply the idea that we are continue emphasizing the education and academia, instead of the (currently) peripheral benefits. It seems that these extra benefits (networking, experience, maturity, etc.) are continually side-lined. If these are the true assets gained during an educational foray, why are they not given higher visibility? Nine times out of ten one question I am asked by interns, new hires, and the like is "What do you think about an MBA?". We are feed this propaganda about the quality of the academics, the publications of their instructors, even how up-to-date their curriculum's are. These are all quantified, debated, retorted, and generally bandied about like Beckham's laundry. Conversely, it's rare that you hear anyone quantifying the value of the alumni connections, the job placement assistance programs, the small groups, the mentoring programs, and the community outreach programs. If your choice were between an Ivy League that receives no executive mentorship from several of the Fortune 10 and a state school that has more than a dozen active executive mentors, which would you pick? This is a real example, by the way. This paradox of true value happens more than you think. With all the hurdles faced in the executive world today (for example, check out Fiorina's recent speech), I think it would benefit us all to stop hiding away the good stuff. Let's start emphasizing the undisputed value of these programs. Why promote the debatable virtues simply because it fits our outdated mode? Instead push the undeniable attributes which better suit our fast-paced, ultra-connected, information age. I'm not suggesting we discount the value of academia, only that we emphasize the other aspects of secondary education. If that fails, then we can pick the dismal quality and/or value of the education our academia provides. ;-)

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